I’ve noticed the Facebook fad-game of naming twenty-five things about yourself has come back to life. So, I thought I’d share a humorous little story about why “don’t try this at home” might be pretty good advice at times. This story originally appeared in slightly different form in The Foghorn. It makes me think of one of my favorite Far Side cartoons by the brilliant Gary Larson.
Gentle, sweet, earnest, reserved and with a wide-eyed look of perpetual mild surprise not often found in adults—that’s Beth. Something about the whole package makes people assume that the tiny woman’s still waters don’t run all that deep. Right now, she sits in Charles and Sandra’s living room, hands folded in her lap, waiting for instructions while Sandra hands out pencils and lined yellow pads.
“So.” Sandra reaches for another handful of almonds from the coffee table. “You just write down the first twenty-five random things that come to mind about yourself. It’s a game that’s been going around on Facebook. Charles thinks it’s silly, but I think it’ll be a fun way to get to know each other, now that we’re next door neighbors.”
Ted says, “This does sound like fun but we have an awful lot of unpacking to finish at home. We really should be going, right Beth?”
“I think it can wait, honey.”
“You heard your wife, Ted.” Charles says. “Tomorrow’s Saturday. Plenty of time for unpacking.”
Sandra looks to Ted. “Is that a yes, then?”
“I guess so.”
“Good! Let’s start. Uh, Beth, is your hand–uh–raised?”
“Yes. I have a question. Must the answers be complete sentences?”
Sandra blinks. “Um, only if you want.”
Beth nods. She writes, filling the page with stout, jolly letters, and folding her hands in her lap again when she’s done.
“Everybody ready?” Sandra looks around. “Ted, why don’t you start? We’ll take turns reading one item at a time.”
“Okay.” Ted taps out a quick rhythm on the arms of his chair. “Here goes. I have seen all the Star Wars movies four times. No exceptions.”
“Four! And you’re still married, huh?” Sandra laughs.
“Of course we are.” Beth’s expression turns from her default surprise to astonishment. “We were married in a church.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean anything serious by that. Sorry.”
Beth’s face relaxes and Sandra looks down at her paper. “Yes, well, here’s mine: I can read Greek.”
“Whoa!” Ted says.
“Yup. Learned it in college and I kept it up.” Sandra turns to her husband. “Let’s hear yours, Charles.”
“Okay. I still can’t figure out what two thirds of the buttons are for on our microwave.”
“In good company there,” says Ted. “I think ours has an asparagus button.”
Charles and Sandra laugh.
“I’ll have to look for that when we get home.” Beth looks to Sandra. “Is it my turn now?”
Sandra nods, then says, “Oh, Beth, hon. You don’t need to stand.”
“Okay.” Beth sits and straightens her back. “I often use a hatpin to punch holes in the eggs at the supermarket.”
Smiles remain on faces, but a brow furrows here and an eyebrow raises there.
Ted gives Beth a sideways glance. “Beth has such a sense of humor.”
Ted raises his voice. “Well—okay. Uh—my turn again, huh? Yes—I used to run track in high school.” He points to Sandra.
“I love the magical smell of the outdoors right after a rain.” She closes her eyes and smiles.
“When we lived in Queens, it smelled like cat pee after it rained.” Beth wrinkles her nose.
Sandra comes out of her reverie. “Oh.”
Charles jumps in. “I like to eat the filling out of my Oreos first.”
Everyone turns to Beth, hope in their eyes. “I enjoy examining my own feces,” she says, looking like the winner of the spelling bee.
The smiles fade further. Charles and Sandra aren’t quite sure where to look.
Sandra breaks the long silence. “Mmm hmm—uh—Ted?”
With visible effort, Ted pulls his eyes away from Beth. “You know, I don’t think we’re going to have time to get to all of these, Beth. Maybe you should stick to the ones about school.”
“But the rules said the first twenty-five things so we should do them in order.”
Ted sighs. “Okay. Okay. My next one is I hate accordion music.”
Sandra takes a deep breath. “My favorite color is sage green.” She sounds a bit perkier than the situation warrants.
“I’d like to own a boat,” says Charles, as if it were a question.
All three turn toward Beth, leaning in, breath held. You could hear a pin drop in the next county.
Beth says, “It’s hard not to laugh when Ted and I have sex because he—”
“Okay! Okay!” Ted stands up, snatching the paper from Beth’s hands. “I think we should go. I’m just really, you know, sleepy.”
“Oh! So soon?” says Sandra. “Here, let me take those papers for you.” But Ted has already steered Beth to the door and is making all the right thank-you-style noises. He shoves the pages into his pocket.
“Sorry Ted spoiled the fun,” says Beth. “He often gets sleepy suddenly like this.”
Sandra and Charles stand at the front window, looking out through a finger-raised slat in the blinds. They watch Beth and Ted walk away.
“Well, well.” Charles shakes his head. “Who would have guessed?”
“I know. She seems so—harmless. What do you suppose the other things were if those were the first ones she thought of?”
“I can’t imagine, really. And I don’t think I want to.”
“You’re right. It’s so awkward already. Imagine if we knew anything worse.”
“Yes. Let’s try to forget it ever happened.”
Sandra begins straightening up, then stops and says, “Too bad they took their papers, though.”
Charles turn off the outside light. “It is in a way, isn’t it?”
Sandra plumps already-plumped pillows. “Yeah, but even if we had those pages, it wouldn’t be right to look at them. I mean, there was probably more really personal stuff in there.”
Charles examines the drawstring on the blinds as if he had never seen it before. “Personal. Or incriminating. Or… See? I should stop. You’re right.”
“Charles…” Sandra looks up.
“Do you suppose if I got the pad that Beth used—and if I shaded it in with pencil—”
“Could we read the rest of what she wrote, like in the movies? I don’t know.”
“Like I said, I wouldn’t really want to read it, but now I’m kind of curious.“
“Me, too. Just to see if it works. That shading thing.”
They sit next to each other on the couch, Sandra fiddling with the pencil she used to Sherlock Holmes her way into Beth’s mind. They read, silently for the most part, with the occasional burst of laughter along with the odd gasp. When they finish, neither speaks. Charles gets up and takes the pages to the fireplace. Sandra goes to the kitchen and comes back with a box of matches. They watch the pages burn and turn out the light when they’re done. As they climb the stairs together, Sandra breaks the silence. “That cousin of yours. Is he still a real estate agent?”
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